Swiss environmentalists demand ‘green recovery’ after coronavirus

BERN (Reuters) – Environmental activists delivered a petition to a special session of the Swiss parliament on Monday demanding that a government aid package should promote a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis.

General view of the extraordinary session of Swiss Parliament during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bern, Switzerland, May 4, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

With some lawmakers wearing protective face masks, parliament convened at an exhibition centre rather than its normal building so members had extra space to maintain social distancing rules.

Campaigners said the 62 billion Swiss francs ($64 billion) in emergency economic aid should be used in an environmentally friendly way.

More than 22,000 people signed the petition demanding that support for companies in sectors with large greenhouse gas emissions like aviation be tied to reducing their environmental impact.

The package includes 1.28 billion Swiss francs in loan guarantees for Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) units Swiss and Edelweiss.

“We are here because we want to make it a green recovery. We need to foster measures that help us to quit fossil fuels now in the wake of corona,” said Georg Klingler from Greenpeace Switzerland.

“We need to make our society more resilient for the crises to come,” he told Reuters.

He urged the government to back measures to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and promote renewable energy, and called on the financial industry to fund sustainable solutions.

“Today they are still heavily invested in fossil fuels and financing a world that will get 4C to 6C hotter,” he said. “That is not sustainable at all.”

Many environmentalists see efforts to minimise the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic as a chance to scale up the technologies needed to speed a transition to cleaner energy.

Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, has also said support from governments could drive rapid growth in battery and hydrogen technology to help the world to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels.

The Swiss government has made few moves in that direction, although President Simonetta Sommaruga said last week the government’s climate targets were still valid and airlines needed to contribute to them.

Campaigner Zoe Roth from Basel said the COVID-19 crisis presented an opportunity to change thinking.

“During this corona crisis we have seen how vulnerable this world is,” she said. “In the … climate crisis, which is way bigger, we really need to do something. We need to take this crisis as a chance to build a more just and more sustainable future,” she said.

Reporting by Cecile Mantovani and John Revill; Writing by John Revill; Editing by Giles Elgood

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